Sunday, April 21, 2019

GSH 2019: Magnificient Myanmar

We had an amazing time in Burma these last few days.  But I have whittled this blog down to the truly impressive or interesting experiences.  And even so, this is just Volume 1. There is more to come.

The Green Market:  We had to spend an hour one morning … and I mean EARLY morning (from 4-5AM) at an enormous fruits and vegetables market in Yangon.  The place was just waking up: people were setting up their booths and carrying giant bundles of stuff on their heads and waiting on customers.  

Think of this:  for many people, this market is their entire world.  They sleep in their stall area … parents and children lying next to each other on the hard concrete.  

Or they sleep on top of their push carts.  

Or on plastic chairs as they guard their produce.  

They bathe in an open washing area and pay pennies to use truly gross public toilets. 

They work seven days a week.  This is their life.  Never has the phrase “There but for the grace of God” had such a powerful meaning to me.

Betel:  The scavenge was to “Chew the betel”… which is a rolled up piece of leaf packed with white goop, shredded tobacco leaf and many mystery ingredients.  

It is apparently very addictive and turns everyone’s teeth dark red like they have been drinking blood.  I bought the betel wrapped-up leaf package. I stuck it in my mouth... between cheek and teeth.  I sucked.  And my face says it all… Betel tastes like you dumped an ashtray into your mouth … with some added sticky stuff that makes the inside of your cheek go numb and tingle.

Smoke a cheroot:  There were also points for smoking the green leaf, stubby cigars that are sold as singles on the street.  So, I lit up.  Apparently puffing on a cheroot is NOT a female activity… just look at the guy and the young woman’s face in the background.  And they flat out howled with laughter when I immediately started coughing up a lung.

Pagodas:  When you get to the pagoda and you are wearing shorts … they rent you the traditional skirt and wrap you up in it. Equal standards of modesty for men and women.

Total dedication to religion: We were there at 6:10 in the morning and throngs of people were already at the Temple: praying and singing before work. 

And pouring water on the heads of the special (now very clean) flower Buddha.

Beware the Buddha that is guarded by double demon dogs

The Pottery Village:  We had to visit a very-out-of-the-way village where the people dig up the soil, wet it down with water for a week, and then knead and beat it into a clay-like substance that can be used to make pots.  This older woman stoops like that (my knees hurt just watching her) for hours every day in her back yard.  

When she's ready to actually shape the pots, her daughter pulls a wooden stick back and forth in a repetitive rhythm - which spins the antique potter’s wheel - while the woman creates basic pots for carrying water and storing stuff. Primitive.  But it works.

Bagan: This city is actually a valley with over 4,400 Pagodas … all shapes and sizes and colors. It is one of those magical places in the world where the globe's vortexes align and the world just feels more serene and calm and almost holy.   Everywhere you look is some ancient stupa or shrine.  It is a bucket list place. We flew up there the second morning and spent the entire day.

 We originally set out walking...  but the road was long and the heat was intense... so we rented bikes ... and rode among the pagodas.

Lunch at a riverside restaurant… finally … some shade

Even the cows have to get out of the noon sun.

At the end of Day 2, we boarded the bus for Ingle Lake. According to the rules of the competition, we were NOT allowed to fly between Bagan and Ingle Lake (which is an easy 1 hour flight). Instead… we had to suffer through an overnight 10-hour bus … across the country. The joy. 

More observations:

Equality:  Like most places, Myanmar is struggling with gender inequality issues.  Women are “capable” and “respected” enough that they can chip up rocks - in the blistering heat - to make roads (while being well-supervised by a male boss who sits in the shade) but they cannot get close to the Buddhas… as only men allowed. Typical !!

But the part I liked.. was at the fish market... every booth had a woman handling the money.

Washing Day:  OK, Monks, how do you know which robe is yours?

Buddha’s toes:  Why do the reclining Buddhas have painted toe nails? And why is “Scarlet Letter Red” the favorite color choice? 

Kids:  Children all over the world charm and amuse me. Quick smiles or stoic calm.  Pensive or bright eyes. 

How do you stand out in a country where everyone looks so similar?  Dye your hair multiple shades of rainbow. There is always one in every crowd.

And, as children are everywhere today, not tending their stall in the market because they're …instead … totally engrossed with their phones !!


Derek Maingot said...

Love love love that country. Keep on posting!!!

guthriefamilynews.blogspot said...

There but for the grace of god... I've always wondered why I was born with such privilege. Gratitude comes easily as it should

Deborah Chang said...

I am sitting here thousands of miles away hanging on every word of your posts: and each post brings me on a magic carpet ride to beautiful, mystical, humbling places. Thank you so much for taking us with you. P.S. I hope you got TONS of points for sticking that stuff in your mouth and smoking (the things we do to win!!!)

Jenny C said...

What a wonderful blog!! I'm having slight PTSD just reading this, but you make the GSH sound so easy! Especially the "not sleeping" part, which must be the case if you're keeping such a great blog along the way! I'm glad I get to keep up with your travels :) Good luck!

sean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bettina said...

As I sit here in a nice cool office, my heart aches for the ladies working on the road. Thanks for sharing and taking us with you on this awesome journey.


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